The Bell Tolls

August 2007 has seen the passing of two fine Mormon historians whose names may not be instantly recognizable to newcomers to Mormon studies, but whose contributions as writers and especially as teachers shaped my generation. They will both be missed.

LaMar C. Berrett died on the 25th. He taught church history and doctrine at BYU for 29 years and was heavily involved in Semester Abroad programs throughout the world. A veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and a missionary in the Southern States Mission, Lamar’s scholarly work focused on the Mormon trail from Vermont to Utah. His Sacred Places series have been popular guidebooks to church history sites for many tour groups and traveling families. See here for his obituary.

Leland Gentry died on the 6th; tomorrow would have been his 75th birthday. He was heavily involved in the seminary and institute programs, and he organized the first seminary in the eastern United States. His historical specialty was the Missouri period. Although MS kept him from an active life for many, many years, his early work is still frequently cited by scholars. My favorite memory of Leland is of watching him cross a parking lot, unsteady on his own feet but gallantly lending an arm to his frail and elderly mother-in-law. His obituary can be read here.

I feel nostalgic when senior scholars pass on — younger scholars, at least as fine as the older ladies and gentlemen, are rising to take their places, but until we recognize them for who they are, our world seems thinner and colder for a time. I hear the bells tolling.

7 comments for “The Bell Tolls

  1. I’ve just read both obituaries, Ardis, and appreciate your posting as you did. I didn’t know either man, but there is a richness to their experiences, areas of priority, and their followings that is unbelievably valuable. When I go back to my college twice a year or so, I usually stay with an archivist-historian-friend who now is nearing his 90s. A survivor of USMC service in the Pacific War, he still holds forth (now as a widower) in the farm house that he built himself after returning from WWII. Saturday mornings are always spent the same way at the kitchen table: a breakfast of English muffins prepared in a toaster oven (one half slathered with melted peanut butter, the other with melted cheese) accompanied by wonderful stories about bookmen across the country (including SLC’s Sam Weller), historians, antiquarian manuscript dealers, and benefactor-collectors. It’s like eating peanuts to listen to these stories about wonderful, eccentric, and maddening people told in the unique accent of northern New England — some of them multiple times. Valuable stuff that I passed by the first time at age 19.

  2. Thanks for this notice, Ardis; I hadn’t heard. I didn’t know either man personally, but I knew who they were.

  3. Ardis–Thanks for getting the word out to the larger Bloggernacle community. I crossed paths with both of these men who both blessed my life, but especially Bro. Gentry. I took two classes from him at the Insititute at the U, almost 30 years ago, one on Paul’s letters and the other on 20th century Church history. At least to that time it was the only time a 20th century class had been taught. I was so delighted to see it, I signed up immediately. One day, later in the quarter, I was talking with Bro. Gentry saying how much I enjoyed hearing all this stuff I only vaguely knew about. He replied that it would probably be a long time before this class was taught again. I was surprised. He said, “You know those two elderly ladies on the front row? Well, they represent the reason we can’t be more forthright about this era of Church History. We can’t really deal with the early 20th century without dealing with the Manifesto and its aftermath. Those two women both come from families that were traumatized by decisions made about continuing or not continuing polygamous relationships.” He said he had been walking on eggs all quarter once he realized their situation.

    Bro. Gentry was walking a fine line with both his kind heart and desires to teach Church History as accurrately as he knew. I’m glad I was in his class.

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